Thursday, April 25, 2013

Invasion of the Talent Coaches

I'm hearing stories all over about the DOE's agents doing practice observations with administrators. Armed with their adapted Danielson rubrics, with the three domains they have determined are inevitable, they do 15-minute observations. During these 15 minutes, they determine whether teachers are highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective. The fact that the evaluation system does not yet exist deters them not at all. The fix is in, they figure, and Reformy John (King) will grant them whatever they ask.

So teachers even principals think are great get rated developing because they went seven and a half full minutes without having students turn and talk. Some of them used the much-praised workshop model, gave a mini-lesson, and because the talent coaches neither saw nor cared what followed, they just didn't hit the mark.

Another problem is lesson plans. Article 8E of the UFT Contract reads as follows:

The development of lesson plans by and for the use of the teacher is a professional responsibility vital to effective teaching.  The organization, format, notation and other physical aspects of the lesson plan are appropriately within the discretion of each teacher. A principal or supervisor may suggest, but not require, a particular format or organization, except as part of a program to improve deficiencies of teachers who receive U-ratings or formal warnings.

You'd think that meant teachers had wide latitude over how they planned their lessons. But the DOE knows better. Your plan is to be rated separately from your lesson. I understand that kids say and do really interesting things, and I will let them steer my lessons into interesting places. I love when that happens. Of course, I'm not (yet) teaching a course that culminates in a Common Core exam that will determine whether or not I get to keep my job. I'd certainly view things differently if I were, and my lessons would certainly suffer for it.

However, were I a supervisor seeing good things going on, I would not waste my time demanding a plan. I would say, "I loved this class," write it up if appropriate, and be on my merry way. But under the paradigm I'm observing, a teacher could give a great lesson and still be criticized for a crappy plan. That strikes me as idiotic, but I didn't write the rubric. In fact, I haven't examined it against Danielson's original, so I have no idea.

I'm hearing that the three domains the DOE is using were accepted by the UFT for the pilot program that took place in the "turnaround" schools. As we all know, that pilot was an abysmal failure and ended up with lawsuits forbidding Bloomberg to defy laws and close the schools. I have no idea whether or not UFT leadership is still favoring these domains. Nor does the DOE.

I know there is much within this junk science VAM plan to be negotiated. I also know that no negotiations are taking place. So it's entirely likely Bloomberg's DOE is betting Reformy John will side with them and back whatever vindictive baseless plan that will help achieve the goal of firing as many teachers as possible.

On the positive side, it will now take two years to fire a teacher. So if you're a new teacher, and you happen to be the worst teacher that ever walked the earth, you get a second year with a validator to decide whether or not you indeed suck as badly as reputed. Unfortunately, if you're a vet, and you don't shine during your 15 minutes of fame, the validator could decide you are no good either.

Now it's possible a validator will be able to determine who is and is not a good teacher. It's also possible the validator could enter with the DOE rubric/hit list and say you stink. That will be bad for a tenured teacher, who will then face the largely impossible burden of proving competence. In the past, at 3020a hearings, the DOE needed to prove the teacher was incompetent. This will now be the case only when the validator determines the teacher is OK.

But take heart. Though Walcott routinely rubber-stamps adverse ratings, the UFT has negotiated that 13% of said ratings will go to an independent arbitrator for a fair hearing. The other 87% will go to a biased arbitrator for an unfair hearing.

That's fair, isn't it? After all, the only thing at stake is your livelihood.
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